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The Three-Cornered World by Natsume Soseki
Kusa makura the Grass Pillow (a journey)
Published by Uni-Sun/MO in 1982
Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002


The "Grass Pillow" aspect of Soseki's book never lived up to my expectations. He went to a hot spring and stayed at a large and largely abandoned house, so he never really slept on a pillow of grass as the idiomatic Japanese expression might lead one to assume. Every time something happens to him, e.g., the beautiful girl O-nami gets naked in the bath with him and pops up in front of his nose he starts writing about quince blossoms. The three-cornered world seems to refer to Jung's quaternary with the intellect left out what Soseki calls common sense.

[page 3] An artist is a person who lives in the triangle which remains after the angle which we call common sense has been removed from this four-cornered world.

The key figure of the story is the artist who is always ready to imagine a painting - a flash of purple here, a flash of metal there, or to compose a poem on the spot. The artist never paints but frequently composes poems and paints word pictures of O-nami, who seems to him to have some quality missing in her face which prevents him from painting her. Only at the train station when her brother leaves for the Russian-Japanese War front does the quality finally appear and he prepares to paint her.

The descriptive sweep of Soseki's writing is enthralling and pervasive. So much that the plot developments seem merely to be foils to set up a chance to describe the sunset glowing through the paper screen (fusuma), the calligraphy on the shoji screen, or the color of O-nami's obi.

The book provides a close encounter with the country-side of Japan a holiday retreat far from the "fart-counting inspectors" of modern Tokyo.

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